When do Amish get baptized? (All about Amish Baptism)

Baptism in the Amish church is a lifelong commitment, usually made between ages 18-22

amish baptismBaptism is a momentous event in an Amish person’s life. It is a commitment made with the church body to God. Baptism in the Amish church has lifelong implications for one’s religious and social life. Thus the decision to become Amish is not taken lightly.

Why do Amish believe in adult baptism?

Baptism was a fundamental issue in the founding of the Anabaptist movement. The issue of infant baptism was crucial for early Anabaptists, who believed that baptism should be a choice made by adults. The Anabaptists based their belief in adult baptism in their interpretation of Scripture and its implications concerning sin.

Amish-born scholar John A. Hostetler notes that early Anabaptists “felt that baptizing babies could not be supported by Scriptures. They argued that sin entered the world with a knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3). Since an infant does not have this knowledge, it cannot have sin.” The descendants of the early Anabaptists, the Old Order Amish and other groups, feel that baptism is unneccessary for the removal of sin.

Implications of baptism

amish adult baptism
Amish choose baptism at late adolescence or adulthood

Adult baptism has remained a key defining characteristic for the Amish and other groups who stemmed off from the early Anabaptist movement. Amish feel the decision should be an adult commitment, made by the individual to God, together with the church body.

Candidates promise to honor Christian values and to follow the guidelines—or Ordnung—of the individual church district. This solemn vow is taken for life; breaking rules of the Ordnung can result in excommunication and shunning.

Amish feel that living by a set of rules is important to achieving a strong Christian faith. Without such rules, membership in the Amish church would be meaningless and the church itself would be weakened or even cease to exist.

Why do Amish choose to be baptized?

Amish choose to be baptized for reasons of spiritual conviction, believing that Amish Christianity is the best spiritual path for themselves as individuals. Other influences can factor into the decision as well.

To be married in the Amish church, both parties must be members, making baptism is a prerequisite for marriage. Peer pressure, as in any other sphere of life, plays a role here too—one may be encouraged to join by the prospect of one’s friends joining.  Parents exert some influence as well.  Most Amish parents, concerned with the welfare of their childrens’ souls, hope that they choose baptism in the Amish church.

amish baptism buggy
At baptism, some Amish youth must make lifestyle changes to conform to church Ordnung

Many Amish feel that Amish church membership is not the only way to salvation, however. Numerous Amish families include sons and daughters who have made the choice not to be baptized.  At the same time, having many or all of one’s children baptized in the church is also a status marker among Amish.

Amish parents may exert varying degrees of influence upon their children. Some may be more direct about their desire to see their children join the church. Others will simply seek to model good behaviors, or may encourage their children in Christian ways, but refrain from applying too much pressure to join the Amish church itself. As with any familial relationship, experiences may vary.

What is the Amish baptismal ceremony like?

Candidates for baptism are considered twice yearly, in the fall and spring. Amish baptismal candidates are typically between ages 18-22, but sometimes as young as 16 or as old as the late 20’s. Candidates will attend classes for baptism, consisting of nine meetings with church leadership, over an 18-week period leading up to the baptismal ceremony.

Instructional classes take place during the first 30-40 minutes of church service, while the rest of the congregation sings from the Ausbund. During the meetings, the ministry reviews two articles of the Dordrect Confession, a founding document of Amish belief, as well as the church’s individual Ordnung.

amish baptism joining church service
Amish baptisms take place twice a year (spring and autumn), and are held during Sunday church service

The day before baptism, there is a special session at which candidates have a final opportunity to change their minds. During the ceremony itself (which takes place after the two sermons of a standard church service) the candidate kneels and the bishop asks questions about the individual’s commitment to living a Christian life and to the church. Candidates are asked to renounce the devil and the world, to commit to  Christ, and to accept the Ordnung of the church district.  Male candidates know they are also committing to serve in the church ministry if the lot should fall on them in future.

The deacon then pours water through the bishop’s hands over the individual’s head. He or she stands to join the rest of the congregation, and is given a holy kiss by the bishop (if male) or by his wife (if female). The individual is now a full-fledged member of the Amish church, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.

How many youth choose to join the Amish church?

Despite what may seem like a difficult lifestyle in outsider’s eyes, high numbers of Amish youth choose to join the Amish church. Percentages may vary by the particular Amish affiliation, but typically 85-90% of Amish youth opt for baptism. These numbers have even been recorded as high as 95% or more, as in the case of the Andy Weaver Amish affiliation in Holmes County, Ohio.

On the other hand, there can be a significant difference when comparing affiliations. For example, the New Order Amish registered a retention rate of just 60% in a study in the Holmes County, Ohio community (see An Amish Paradox, p. 80). This may reflect this particular group’s more mission-oriented and evangelical-influenced spirituality.

For those Amish-raised individuals who choose not to become Amish, factors like a desire for education or the freedom to use a full array of modern technology, or a difficult upbringing can influence the decision to choose a non-Amish path.

amish youth baptism
Members of a “buddy bunch” often choose to join church at the same time

Amish youth are attracted to the Amish church by the promise of  stability, community, family, and of course, religious conviction. Being a member of the Amish church means giving up a lot of the outside world’s enticements, from some technology to formal education to certain career paths.

But in exchange, an Amish person receives the strength of community, the security of knowing one’s place in a social structure, and a web of spiritual and moral support in trying times. Baptism into the Amish church is a choice with trade-offs but with many rewards as well.

For more information, see:

The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald B. Kraybill

Amish Society, John A. Hostetler

The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher

An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community, Charles Hurst and David McConnell

Updated July 2021

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    9 Comments

    1. Baptism and Church Membership

      For more information, also see: “Amish Wannabe?” at http://www.BrendaNixonOnAmish.blogspot.com. This post explains some of the requirements for Amish Church membership, which occurs simultaneous with baptism.

    2. Christine

      Baptism

      Curious about the Amish baptism…scripturally…do the Amish baptize in the Name of Jesus according to Acts 2:38 or do they follow titles (in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)? Matthew 28:19

    3. Mark - Holmes Co.

      Christine, baptisms are done in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    4. Christopher Elwell

      Immersion

      I was taught that the word ‘baptism’ meant immersion, or dipping (in water). Biblical accounts of baptism seem to align with this viewpoint (Mark 1:10, Acts 8:36, Romans 6:4, etc.). What are the origins for baptism by sprinkling of water, if not the Bible? This question isn’t intended to be accusatory, rather as seeking the truth together.

      1. Sunflower

        Baptism

        Good question, Christopher! I was wondering the same thing. How did this tradition start? And when? Were the first Anabaptists baptized in the winter when bodies of water were too cold or frozen? The Baptist Church is the only one I’ve ever attended and the only baptism I’ve ever seen that didn’t involve full submerging was a man in a wheelchair that was paralyzed from the neck down. A few people made a stink about it but the pastor and deacons met to pray and discuss what to do. They decided for the man’s own safety they would pour water
        over him instead of having several men carry him down into the baptismal and God knew the man’s heart! The last one I was at (three weeks ago and a different church-no indoor baptismal) a woman yelled at the pastor because we were there. After she left someone else called the police and complained because we were there. We didn’t understand that- it’s not illegal (not yet).

      2. Sister Su

        Baptism = Immersion question

        Christopher, you are correct as to the meaning of the word Baptism. However, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and in many other dry places in the past, people were eventually requesting baptism in places where there was sometimes not enough water available to immerse them. My church blocks small streams and creeks with a temporary dam, to allow the water level to rise and provide enough depth for baptism by trine immersion. But if you read the Didache chapter 7 (written around 100 AD, https://scrollpublishing.com/the-didache/) and other writings of the Early Church (available at Scroll Publishing), you will see that while immersion in flowing (living) water such as John the Baptist and Jesus used, or Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch was highly preferred and by far the norm, in the first few centuries of Christianity, pouring was allowed in some situations where immersion was not possible.

        Some examples of these extenuating circumstances might be, if the person requesting baptism is very ill, on their deathbed or imprisoned, or lives in a desert area and water is extremely scarce. I am not promoting the mode of pouring, only explaining why it grew in popularity. Over the centuries, in certain locations and in certain branches of the church, pouring became more common because of it’s relative ease when compared to immersion. It could be performed in a wide variety of indoor public settings without disrobing or changing clothing, so some considered pouring more modest. Many of our ancestors never learned to swim and did not grow up near warm Mediterranean or tropical climates with abundant water. In Jewish culture, a triple immersion was the norm when people converted to Judaism, and a monthly immersion for among married women was expected. This Mikva practice is still followed by Orthodox Jews today. Even special items dedicated for God’s purposes are immersed and prayed over, so this concept of immersion during dedication to God was part of Jewish culture and practice. But as Christianity spread into different cultures and climates, a variety of other cultural traditions were encountered.

        Many of our ancestors were very afraid of drowning and therefore never learned to swim and were very reluctant to immerse themselves completely in water. Some of our ancestors worshiped bodies of water, or associated certain gods with them. Some of our ancestors lived in places where public baptism would have brought public condemnation or death. Some of them lived in places where baptisms were done in secret, or at night. In these settings, pouring was often considered easier.

        There were also many old wives tales which were commonly believed in a variety of places during the Medieval era, such as that you should not bathe or get your whole body wet all at once, especially in wintertime. Each culture has its own relationship to the water. Some people preferred pouring because of convenience and ease. But the more this was accepted over time, the more easily it was applied to younger and younger people who did not really understand, and in many churches baptism became seen as merely symbolic rather than an important part of actually dedicating your own life to serve God’s purposes. The mode of baptism by pouring was more easily applied to young children and infants, which is not supported at all by Scripture. There is not one place in the New Testament which uses the Greek word for children or babies when describing those who are baptized. Over time, pouring was also more easily applied to unrepentant people, such as when other cultures were conquered by kings claiming to be Christian. Thus by the 1500s, once the State Churches had controled most people’s encounter with Baptism for roughly 1200 years, pouring had become the more common mode among most churches with European roots. Then came the Reformation, and the Radical Reformation of the Anabaptists- which mostly retained the mode of pouring.

        But as people became more able to easily study Greek word meanings and Early Church history, an increasing number of new believers choose the immersion mode of Jesus and the New Testament Church.

      3. Doug Stern

        Baptism

        The practice of sprinkling or pouring comes from the Roman Catholic church. Jesus an Orthodox Jew followed an old Jewish practice of total immersion. Today Jews still practice immersion, and some are baptized once in their life, some once a year, and some women are baptized every month.

        1. Judy Stavisky

          When do Amish get baptized?

          Doug, some confusion here. Jewish people are never baptized, ever. The ritual bath (a mikvah) is used by Orthodox women (who represent a small number of Jewish females) to cleanse themselves monthly. There also is a utensil mikvah,a shallow ritual bath used to sanitize kitchen utensils for a kosher home. But most US Jewish homes do not keep kosher nor do the women use a mikvah.

    5. Jeff Lahman

      So just what does the Christian have faith in?

      “The just shall live by faith” was the Reformation’s battle cry. All the various sects we find in Christendom today were caused by how various sectarian leaders at the time of the Reformation understood the mysterious nature of faith. Does it originate within ourselves or does it originate in God? Some sects have concluded that they have the ability to make Jesus the Christ, that is, by their decision the Lord becomes the Lord. Men, who were earnest in this type of understanding of faith, split from the other group of men in the Reformation, who had a much more foundational understanding of God and the basis of His salvation for men. These men, who were gifted by God with saving faith, understood that they do not make God – God by their faith. Rather, they were gifted by God to rely, depend, trust, and believe in the merciful testimony Jesus sets in front of all of us – the solid foundation that will ultimately be the only basis for the Christian to stand in faith against all the misery this life will inevitably hurl at him or her, being ushered into heaven itself when we have completed all that God wanted us to overcome in each of our own individual lives. Sincere Christians know that we bring nothing to the table in regard to righteousness. Indeed, God has saved us from the wages of our sins – not ourselves. Jesus has paid the just penalty due us for our sin. He is our righteousness. The Christian man does not think of himself as having a higher form of natural righteousness in himself that has allowed him to make the right choice for Christ in comparison to his unbelieving neighbor. His salvation is not ultimately based upon his own personal assessment of his own righteousness, that is, his ability to make the right choice, while his unregenerate neighbor does not naturally possess that same level of righteousness within himself to make that right choice. Christians have been born again because God has gifted them with the ability to be nourished by the testimony of His Son. They hear and believe their Lord’s testimony, the ultimate embracing of the gospel message. What is this liberating testimony, freeing man from death, sin, and all the evil his entire life will attempt to drown him in? The Lord of all has proclaimed these words to His children,”Take, eat, this is My body given for you.” “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the New Covenant in My blood, poured out for you, and for many, for the remission of sins.” Those men, who attempt to make Jesus Lord by their misdirected concept of faith, belittle these words of institution in the sacrament of Communion – our Lords saving testimony. They are left groping for meaning in their lives, asking,”How can this Man give us His body to eat?” They say,”The Lord’s body is not there in the bread of the sacrament – His blood is not there within the wine of the sacrament.” In defiant opposition to what our Lord clearly proclaims – to what He clearly testifies to through His ordained ministers. Instead, misdirected men look to themselves to make the Word true, groping for meaning and tormenting their followers – not liberating the captives through the blood of the Lamb. In effect, they say,”Man does live by bread alone – not every word that precedes from the mouth of God.” They will say the true word of God proclaimed over an infant who has been baptized are not true. “You have not been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost,” they will say. Your salvation from the wrath of God is dependent upon yourself not the Word of God – the very God that is saving you from the penalty of your sins. In effect, they say, “Don’t believe Him and His Words instituting your baptism.” Their concept of God depends on their ability to save themselves, not the power of God and His Word. In effect, in regard to infant baptism, they call God a liar and, instead, leave men in bondage to themselves – continually and unrelentingly asking themselves if they are righteous enough in attempting to make God’s Word true in order to save themselves. It is a tormenting position in which men of this type of faith lead themselves. Jesus came to free men through the power of His Word – not to be a means of introspective torment by questioning that Word. Jesus said if we continue in His Word, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free (Jn. 8:32). Here is the truth of His Word, beloved, His body has indeed been given for us – His blood of the New Covenant has indeed been shed for us, for the remission of our sins. If I have been baptized, even as an infant, I have indeed been baptized on the strength and power of God and His Word. God has saved me through the giving of His Son’s body and blood to me and for me. I have been saved from the just wrath of God due me for my sins. The Christian who believes God’s Word is free! God’s Word is true! The just shall live by faith in the truth of God’s Word – indeed, our salvation is dependent upon our Christ and the truth He proclaims to us.